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2007-04-26 D&D and Thieves

The longer I’m thinking about the D&D rules, some thoughts on the original D&D (aka. OD&D – see Delta’s D&D Hotspot for some thoughts on the old rules), the rumored changes to made for the fourth edition (4E), the Star Wars RPG previews discussed on EN World, my exposure to M20, and my player’s reaction to the simplified skill system, and a reading of the skill system alternatives.

Based on the feedback on M20, I guess my players wouldn’t like the very simple variant:

The alternative, where you just pick skills and it is automatically assumed that you’ve maxed them out, might help a bit.

What I’m really trying to figure out is whether we need rogues at all. They are sometimes called “skill monkeys”. If we simplify skills, perhaps we don’t need them anymore, and they can all be fighters again…

Yes, this thought is inspired by a thread on EN World, too. But I can’t find it anymore.

Both games I currently run don’t have rogues in the party.

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No Rogues? Yipe! I don’t know where my game would be without the Rogue class. Remember that it’s not just about all those skill points the Rogue gets (more on those later), remember the other abilities that the Rogue has too; they’re unique to the Rogue, and pretty much essential for a well rounded party whether in a Dungeon, in the wilderness or in an urban setting.

First off, there’s Trapfinding. The Rogue is the only class which can find traps that have a DC of more than 20 (like most magic-based traps). At higher levels, the party would risk setting off every single trap without the expert eyes of a Rogue. You’re left relying on the high Hit Points of a Fighter-type to survive the trap, or a spellcaster using his precious spell slots up with Detect Magic just to see if there’s any high DC traps in the area.

Also, only a Rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps. Without a Rogue, you’re stuck with using Dispel Magic or letting the Fighter soak up the damage from the Fireball trap. Not something he’s going to want to do too frequently.

Even if you’re not throwing traps at your players (why not :)?!), there’s the Rogue’s Sneak Attack to consider. A Rogue can do more damage in a single hit from the shadows than any other class. Consider: A 1st level Rogue’s sneak attack with a rapier does 2d6 damage (+ STR bonus, if any). If it’s a critical hit as well, it’s 4d6 damage - more than any other class at that level except a Barbarian getting a critical while raging with a greataxe. That amount of damage can take out any single foe that a 1st level party is likely to encounter, and there’s no limit to how often it can be used. Spells? Pah!

At higher levels, a Rogue’s sneak attack damage becomes more important than the choice of weapon. I’ve had a 15th level Rogue use a piece of broken glass (damage 1d2) to escape a prison; when you’re doing +7d6 sneak attack damage, anything in your hands is a lethal weapon.

Multi-classing is a great way to add in Rogue coolness to your game too. A Rogue/Monk can do Sneak attack damage with their bare hands (and feet), and select whether to make the attack lethal or non-lethal at will. Picture an unarmed Rogue/Monk silently knocking all of the city guards unconscious before opening the gates for the rest of the party. It’s like a sleep spell with unlimited range.

My group has a love for Rogue/Paladins, especially of the halfling variety. Combine the Rogue’s high Reflex save with the halfling’s +1 on all saves and the Paladin’s Divine Grace ability (add CHA bonus to all saves) and few spells or traps can touch this combo. Then there’s the lethal combination of Sneak attack + Smite Evil to consider. A STR 12 DEX 16 CHA 14 Rogue-3/Paladin-2 with a Shortsword and Weapon Finesse has a +9 to hit doing 3d6+3 damage from a successful Smite Evil’d Sneak attack. A critical would do 4d6+6.

When it comes to character concepts, the Rogue/Paladin could be a reformed street thief, a swashbuckler in the best Musketeer tradition or even a Batman-style dark avenger. I’ve seen them all, and they’ve all been terrific.

Then there’s the skills. A Rogue is at their best when they specialize, choosing to focus on just a fraction of their skill list. That’s down to the character concept more than anything. A scout-type would max out Hide, Climb, Jump, Listen, Spot, Swim and get the Run and Alertness feats. A classic dungeon-based trapfinder would max out Search, Spot, Disable Device, Use Magic Device and Appraise and get the Skill Focus (Search) feat. An urban Rogue’s skills would emphasise Gather Information, KS:Local, Disguise, Bluff and Sense Motive and take the Investigator feat.

A Rogue’s skill selection is as important and personal as a Fighter’s choice of weapon. Just as a Fighter with a glaive would likely be different to one wielding a katana, a Rogue’s skill selection says a lot about them and where they’re fit into the party.

Also, having a Rogue in the party widens your options as a DM, encouraging the party to think tactically. Picture a typical bandit camp that the party want to clear. Without a Rogue, they’re limited to a frontal attack, possibly with wizz-bang spells and ranged attacks from the Ranger. Add a Rogue into the mix and you can post sentries and set traps around the campsite - something which would be lethal if put against a non-Rogue carrying party. And when combat starts, the Rogue can flank whoever the Fighter is battling, giving him a +2 to attack as well as setting himself up for that Sneak attack too.

Oh, and did I mention that Sneak attack + Cleave rocks??

Phew. Get your players to read this, then ask them again whether Rogues are redundant. I hope I’ve changed their minds :)

GreyWulf 2007-04-28 12:59 UTC


It’s good to have you back! :)

I think the reason for my disinterest in rogues is that I don’t like traps as a DM. I used to like traps. Then I realized that traps are either unfair, or simple devices to keep the rogue busy. Similarly, all scouting missions, anything requiring sneaking and hiding, are basically rogue solo-missions. In terms of time spent at the table, anything the rogue does except for sneak attack is no fun for the other players.

One might argue that traps without rogues are no fun for the rest of the party, but I’d argue that adding these traps was a mistake made by the DM, nothing else. To conclude that the party must now include at least one rogue to find and disable the traps is the wrong solution, as it introduces the dreaded downtime for everybody else.

So that’s why I’m asking myself: Do traps and rogues and scouting ahead make the game more fun or not?

Perhaps we should just make all these skills available to non-rogues.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to house-rule rogues away. Nor am I about to revamp the skill system. But the heresy is growing stronger day by day. ;)

AlexSchroeder


Good questions, all :)

I guess it all depends on style of play more than anything else. I like traps - they add another dimension to the game and break the pace in otherwise combat-focused dungeons. I like my players wary when faced with empty corridors (or, even worse, a corridor with a bloodsplat on the ceiling!). I like that they treat a treasure chest like an unexploded bomb. A Rogue is the expert in those situations, and to give their speciailist abilities to everyone just feels…..not D&D. If you wanna act like a Rogue, multi-class and be happy :)

Rogues can end up acting like solo players rather than team-members if you’re not careful, I agree. The trick is to keep everyone busy and involved in the story.

For example, if the Rogue is going to scout around the bandit camp, the rest of the party can stage a distraction from one side. They get combat, she gets lots of Stealth rolls and everyone is happy. In a dungeon, have the Rogue be busy disarming the trap on the door while the rest of the party are beating back a horde of Orcs. Keep the pressure up, and the Rogue’s contribution will be as much a part of the teamwork as anyone else’s.

“Get that door open, NOW! These orcs outnumber us 20 to 1!”

If I’m gaming and one player goes off to do something on their own (be it a Rogue, Mage going shopping or whatever), I always ask the rest of the party what they’re doing in the meantime. If you let ‘em do nothing, they will :) Put them on the spot, and they’ll usually invent something, and it’ll be cool.

I remember one game where Shelya d’Morganstance (one of the Rogue/Paladins) wanted to skip out of their inn to woo the daughter of a local noble. The Fighter/Cleric followed him out of distrust (they thought he was a spy at the time), while the Sorcerer went to visit his sister. Of course, the sister was (unbeknown to any of the players) also the object of affection who Shelya was trying to court. That entire game session turned into a terrific Shakespearean farce completely unrelated to the “real” plotline, and all because I’d asked the other two players what they were planning to do while Shelya slipped outside.

Never underestimate the power of putting players on the spot :)

GreyWulf 2007-04-30 15:34 UTC


Sounds like fun! I’m looking forward to the end of BarrowOfTheForgottenKing. And there’s way to much combat compared to story telling or interaction… I’ve enjoyed a room that required lots of climbing, so I had prepared a map showing not only the rock pillars and the ropes but indicating with a different color the damage you’d take from various heights, and in yet another color the skill checks required to get from one pillar to the next. It was great fun. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-05-01 22:50 UTC


Over on Grognardia I’m trying to argue that there are no thieves and rogues – they’re just fighters that steal stuff where as James Maliszewski is arguing that Pulp Fantasy D&D would be built on the foundation of three primary character classes: the Fighter, the Thief, and the Magic-User. No clerics, but including a Thief? Noooo! :)

Then again, I’ve gone from skill system simplification, to keeping the old system, to using free-form aspects like in Risus, to abolishing skills altogether (actually I might have been keeping this idea to myself – I’ll have to blog about it one day).

AlexSchroeder 2008-08-05 19:48 UTC

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